THE STORY OF DAKOTA
The cement floors were cold. The walls seemed close and damp. All was quiet in the corridor. Suddenly a door opened allowing a shaft of light to shoot through it. The surrounding air erupted with the desperate excited barking of other lost souls like Dakota. Echoes rippled down the corridor in waves of anticipation. A small group of people strolled by stopping at each kennel, peeking excitedly in. They would occasionally chat and giggle. Then they would draw back and move on. Dakota would never see them again.
Days became weeks which became months. Finally those months sprawled into a whole new calendar year, and then into yet another. The routine was somehow always the same…strange faces briefly peeking in and then moving away, never to be seen again. Only the dogs kenneled on both sides of him would change. Dakota waited in the cold, damp corridor. He waited for the sun to shine.
Rays of sunshine can come in unexpected forms. A husband and wife had lost a dear elderly canine friend and were looking for a new one. Dakota’s bright, pretty face caught their eye on an Internet web site. He had no way of knowing that the sun was finally about to shine on him and that his luck was about to change…forever… Or was it…?
I got a call from a man one cold afternoon. His voice was soft, gentle and full of compassion. He had expressed concerns about his dog’s behavior. He and his wife had had this dog for about a year. The dog had become increasingly aggressive towards guests in their home. The dog’s name was Dakota. He told me that his dog would leap up into the air and punch the guest in the chest with his front feet, sometimes knocking them over. While in mid jump Dakota’s nose would bump the face of the “intruder”. This had been escalating in intensity for a long time. Finally the dog injured someone.
John and his wife Carolyn are very compassionate people. They wanted to be sure when they brought Dakota home that his life would now be nothing but wonderful and full of love. They were unaware that a lack of structure and rules in his new home would give Dakota power that he would later use in inappropriate ways. Dakota promptly took over the house.
John and Carolyn were at odds over what to do about their problem. It was clear that things could not continue as they were, but neither one of them could stand the thought of sending Dakota back to the shelter. If he were to be returned there, he was surely doomed. They were skeptical about hiring a dog professional but knew that things needed to change. “There are so many trainers out there, how do I know if I have hired a GOOD trainer?” John asked me over the phone.
It is my firm belief when it comes to improving a dog’s inappropriate behaviors, that the best results come when the dog’s owners and the trainer are aligned and work well together as a team. John and I were on the same page from the start. Our phone conversation made that evident to both of us.
When I first met Dakota, I was struck by his power and intensity. It was clear to me that he did not trust people that he didn’t know. He used his great power and focus to frighten people so that they would give him a wide birth. If that didn’t work, he went into offense mode and jumped at them. This dog was a classic combination of dominance and fear. If left unaddressed, that combination can become very dangerous.
The first thing we needed to do was have John and Carolyn take charge of their house again. They learned simple ways of reclaiming what once was theirs. Dakota responded beautifully. As it turns out, he is a brilliantly intelligent and very willing dog.
The next challenge, and one that would take much longer to achieve was to help Dakota learn that people who are strangers to him can be trusted. Trust must be earned with time, patience and correct practice. With new leadership skills, his owners took control and taught him that their friends can be his friends too. Dakota was especially suspicious of men. So my husband helped in his rehabilitation. We used our ace in the hole, Dakota’s love of food (especially CHEESE). We kept the situation very controlled. His owners always remained the source of power…and the source of the cheese. Dakota learned that a stranger walking by meant cheese for him! That’s not so bad after all! We made sure that this “stranger” never looked at or addressed Dakota in any way. Dakota’s focus changed from that of fear and aggression to curiosity in this once scary stranger.
One of the biggest transformations that I saw, and the one I am most amazed, impressed and proud of was the transformation in Carolyn throughout Dakota’s rehabilitation process. When I first met the couple, she was the one who was almost ready to throw in the towel. She was frustrated, worried about the safety of their family and friends, and had little hope for their future with Dakota. She was clearly at her wits end. Due to John’s shoulder surgery during all of this, it was Carolyn who did the majority of Dakota’s training. Carolyn rose to the occasion and then some, and together they both blossomed like beautiful flowers.
Today Dakota has a bright future. And he is going to share it with two very special people! What a lucky fellow he is to have been adopted by two people who are so committed to him, people who were willing to seek help and learn the skills needed to give him that wonderful life he is so deserving of.